On Getting Paid to Recycle

January 24th, 2008

I wrote a piece for VentureBeat some time ago on the idea of “productizing good”, a great phrase I picked up from Terrapass‘s Tom Arnold. The idea is to use capitalist/consumerist impulses to drive socially and environmentally beneficial goals. I cited Terrapass, Ethos water and Kiva.org as good examples of the trend.

Lately I have seen a number of businesses with a slightly different spin- they pay *us* to do good. I mentioned EnerNOC the other day as one company that pays its customers to reduce their electrical consumption, and a commenter was kind enough to point out several other companies in the space as well.

On the consumer-facing end of things, I attended a VLAB panel the other night that featured RecycleBank, whose business model is to pay consumers to fill their recycling bins. RecycleBank signs contracts with municipalities, taking a cut of the amount the city saves on landfill costs as recycling increases, and passes on a portion of that to consumers as credits to be used at designated merchants. The goal is to divert recyclables out of landfill, potentially generate income for the cities by making material available to the recyclables market, and reward consumers every month for sorting their trash. I would have been really skeptical of the whole idea but for (i) learning that most people in the US don’t recycle much, and (ii) the company has a bunch of cities under contract already.

Even closer to my heart is Terracycle‘s Brigade project. Terracycle’s main business is selling organic fertilizer and pesticides. They package their products in straight-from-the-recycling-center plastic bottles. More recently, they have started projects to collect used yogurt containers, drink pouches and energy bar wrappers. I go through a lot of energy bars, so I’m pleased to have a place to send the wrappers. For each container, $0.02- $0.05 is donated to the charity of the collectors choice. I’m still working through the details, especially what will be done with all the material collected, but I love the idea.

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